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Jacob Flickinger in an undated handout photo.HO/The Canadian Press

The mother of a Canadian Army veteran killed during an attack on humanitarian workers in the Gaza Strip this week is rejecting Israel’s explanation for what happened.

But Sylvie Labrecque, her voice filled with exhaustion and grief, says she remains hopeful that the deaths of her son Jacob Flickinger and six of his colleagues will lead to positive change for all aid workers and the people of Gaza.

“I just feel good in a way that I feel that a lot of people are honouring Jacob in many different ways,” she said in an interview.

“So I’m hoping that there will be positive impact in terms of possibilities of stopping some of that killing.”

Flickinger, 33, was one of seven World Central Kitchen workers killed on April 1 when their convoy was attacked after it delivered 100 tonnes of food to a warehouse in Deir al-Balah.

A retired Israeli general investigated the attack and in published findings Friday blamed the attack on a breach of policy and a mistaken observation.

He said an Israel Defence Force colonel authorized a series of deadly drone strikes based on one major’s observation – from grainy drone-camera footage – that someone in the convoy was armed. That observation turned out to be untrue, military officials said.

The authorization also broke IDF rules of engagement that require more than one reason for identifying someone as a target before they can be hit.

The colonel and the major were both dismissed and three other military officials reprimanded.

“It’s a tragedy,” the military’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told reporters.

“It’s a serious event that we are responsible for and it shouldn’t have happened and we will make sure that it won’t happen again.”

Labrecque said that the explanation rings hollow for her.

“They’re denying that it’s their fault,” she said.

“But I think that people can decide on whatever they think, but it’s crap to me. For sure, it was absolutely meant in a way that that’s what they wanted to do. They wanted to eliminate these workers, these humanitarian workers, in a way that they just don’t want to feed the refugees. They want them to die, you know?”

The aid workers were travelling on a route approved by the Israel Defence Force to transfer food from a makeshift pier that World Central Kitchen built on the Gaza coast.

Flickinger, who served in Afghanistan in 2010 and retired from the Canadian military in 2019, joined World Central Kitchen last fall as a means to help him recover from PTSD. He had been in Gaza since early March.

He and his partner, Sandy Leclerc, lived in Costa Rica with their son, who is now 18 months old.

Also killed in the attack were Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43, from Australia; Polish national Damian Sobol, 35; Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25; and John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, all British citizens.

Their deaths sparked international outrage – and even Israel’s most ardent ally, the United States, has issued a stern rebuke and warning that future American support for the war is dependent on concrete steps to ensure the safety of aid workers and get more humanitarian aid into the territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded quickly, promising Friday to allow in more aid, including temporarily opening a key border crossing that was destroyed in the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack which killed 1,200 Israelis.

That attack was the impetus for the escalated conflict that Israel insists is a war to eliminate Hamas, but which its critics contend has resulted in the indiscriminate bombing of innocents.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 33,000 Palestinians have died since Oct. 7.

In a statement Friday, World Central Kitchen said the Israel Defence Force “deployed deadly force without regard to its own protocols, chain of command and rules of engagement. The IDF has acknowledged that our teams followed all proper communications procedures. The IDF’s own video fails to show any cause to fire on our personnel convoy, which carried no weapons and posed no threat.”

The organization is demanding an independent commission be appointed to dig further into the situation. It has suspended its work in Gaza since the tragedy unfolded.

“The IDF cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza,” said the statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday it wasn’t clear yet if Israel’s move to allow in more aid would satisfy Biden’s demands on Israel. It is also not clear exactly what support Biden is threatening to withdraw.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said nothing justifies Hamas’s attack on Israel last fall, but also, nothing justifies “the collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.

Guterres said it is too early to tell what impact Israel’s move to allow in more aid will have, noting small changes are not enough to turn the tide on the “absolutely desperate” situation in Gaza.

He said an independent investigation of the aid workers’ deaths cannot take place without Israel’s co-operation, but he said the question isn’t just about what happened to them because this is not an isolated incident.

About 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since October.

“The question is not only to know if some mistakes were committed,” Guterres said.

“The question is the system that allows those mistakes to happen time and time again. It is the change of that system that is required, which implies a change in strategy and the procedures that the military are using in Gaza.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Netanyahu for saying the aid worker deaths were a tragic mistake but something that happens in armed conflict. He also called for an independent probe into the incident.

He has not yet commented on the Israeli report.

For Flickinger’s family, the coming days will bring no solace as they await the arrival of his body and prepare for his funeral.

Labrecque said Global Affairs Canada has been helping them and that her son’s body is currently in Egypt but should be flown to Canada early next week.

“Sometimes I think that he was kind of like bigger than life,” she said.

“He was so intense. But at the same time, he was working for a very good cause. And I’m just hoping that, you know, all the interviews we’ve done these past two days, I’m just hoping that it’s going to be some kind of a waking call. There’s got to be action done, not only talks, but let’s do something about it.”

An Israeli inquiry into the killing of seven aid workers in an air strike in Gaza this week found serious errors and breaches of procedure by the military, with the result that two officers have been dismissed and senior commanders formally reprimanded.


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